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HOLD!! Empathy guides 1st-grade teacher

By Valerie Kiger

news@postbulletin.com

Jamie Berry’s early struggles with reading defined her career.

Since becoming a teacher 18 years ago, Berry has helped many a first-grader learn to read. She shares an empathy with those who find reading a challenge, and guides their efforts to master the skill.

"I think God intended for me to help struggling readers," says Berry, who has spent most of her career in first-grade classrooms.

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She has been trained in the Reader Recovery program, which isn’t used by the Rochester school district, but which she finds helpful not only for struggling readers, but highly advanced readers as well.

"When you see a first-grader crack the code of reading, and learning how to read — that is why I stay in first grade. Plus, they think I’m funny when my own children are embarrassed by me," said Berry, who has twin girls turning 10 this month.

Berry, 41, a first-grade teacher at Bamber Valley Elementary School, is the Post-Bulletin Newspaper In Education Teacher of the Month for May.

Making connections between something students do know to something they don’t is key to helping them learn new concepts, Berry said.

When teaching her class spelling rules, she might have them cheer, "Open the barn door, kick out the ‘e,’ we're going to add ‘ing.’"

She explains the purpose of learning particular facts or rules, too.

"Even when they're 6 or 7 years old, they want to know, Why are we doing this?" Berry said.

One of the largest changes she has noticed over her career is the broadening range of skill mastery among her students.

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"You have to differentiate. You can't use the same cookie-cutter curriculum. You have to look at the child, what their strengths are and how to accelerate them."

Teachers, parents and students are like a three-legged stool, she said. "If you don't have that parent-teacher-child bonding ... the stool falls down."

The end of the school year is a time she feels the loss of relationships not only with students, but their parents as well.

"By the end of the year, I feel like part of their family," she said.

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